Time to #BreaktheFrame: Life, Leadership and LEGO

by Alli Polin on December 3, 2014

You can break the frame of your leadership and rebuild to create a new vision for the future

I work with people who feel stuck and want to break the frames that are holding them back. Recently, I’ve been playing with ways to look at those frames and use what’s present to create a new world view.  Sitting in my home office, I was looking at my walls and files and noticed a random group of LEGO bricks under a nearby chair.  I began to play with a thought: Where is the intersection among life, leadership and LEGO?

If you ever come to visit my house, be sure to keep your shoes on to avoid the pain of stepping on a LEGO piece that’s lurking on the family room floor or under the table or even, occasionally, in the bathroom. My son loves LEGO and I’m fairly certain that we have enough blocks to recreate the entire LEGO Movie.

His obsession started before he even started Preschool with only a box of blocks and his imagination.  That was all it took to create worlds filled with exciting characters and possibilities.  However, in the past few years, LEGO has become more about the ability to follow directions than bringing a personal vision to life. Blocks now come in coded plastic bags with direction booklets that would make IKEA proud. While he loves every one of his Star Wars structures, I’m saddened that they teach him that a block can only fit in one location.

Recently, he’s been going “old school” making boats and buildings that didn’t come with a step by step guide.  He’s learning to repurpose pieces and find new ways of using blocks that formerly only had a single use.  Watching him play, I built on my earlier question linking life, leadership and LEGO and wondered how many adults don’t realize that they too can take apart their experience, like LEGO, to build something new?

Not long ago I was working with my client, Meg.  She was telling me how she really wants a new job, but feels incredibly limited because while she has been working in HR for nearly two decades, she only has a finite set of skills.  The way I see it, she built a LEGO structure with her knowledge, skills and experiences and began to believe that all she could build from her blocks was “HR Director.”  I helped her to take the bricks apart and using her values and vision as a new guide, put them back together to create an entirely new creation.  The blocks were the same, the way they fit together to tell a story had shifted and she was finally free to turn her “HR Director” structure into “Professor,” teaching at a local college.

Time to Play!  Let’s Look at Your Life, Leadership and LEGO

How can you deconstruct the LEGO structures in your life and leadership to build something new?  Grab a pile of sticky notes and lets get started!

Start with Values

Imagine your values as the long flat pieces at the base of anything you build.  Your values fortify you and without them, every block you place will be precarious at best.  If you aren’t sure what your values are, start by asking yourself these six questions to uncover values.

Build on Your Gifts

Think gifts, not only skills.  Meg lit up when she talked to me about how she felt when she got a note from an employee thanking her for taking the time to really listen.  Her previously overlooked building blocks of listening, curiosity and coaching are now front and center in her new LEGO masterpiece.

Connect with Your Passion

You’ll often hear the advice to follow your passion, but no matter where you are or what you do, you can bring your passion with you.  Meg dreaded the amount of time she was doing admin and resented how little time she was able to be out in the field, connecting with employees.  We spent some time reflecting on what is it about being in the field and connecting that matters?  What does it stir inside of her?  Why can’t she get that same feeling on the phone behind her desk?  When you bring your passion with you, commitment and joy and shine through in all you do.

Start Building 

It may be tempting to fire up Word on your computer and pour all of your energy into revamping your resume.  I’d like to suggest that you back off of your resume, and turn to one of my favorite tools, sticky notes.  Write down your gifts, passions and values, one on each note, and find a blank wall to begin to play.  When you see themes that fit together… move the notes.  Don’t like the picture that’s taking shape?  Move them again to create a new pattern and a new view of who you are.

Your life brought you to this moment.  Instead of being confined by the set of blocks you think you have at your disposal, dig deeper to discover new colors, new configurations and new possibilities.  You’re never stuck when you’re playing LEGO…

What hidden pieces are at your disposal that you need to bring out to play?

If you’re ready to discover some new blocks in your life and leadership and get unstuck, you’ll love the eCourse: Get Unstuck and Choose to Move


{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Terri Klass December 3, 2014 at 9:21 am

I love your LEGO metaphor and the idea of reconstructing what we already have within us! We all have built structures for our careers that can be re-imagined to play to the areas we are most curious about at any point in our journeys.

For me as well as many others I have worked with, it is sometimes difficult to recognize our gifts and then acknowledge that we really want to follow a different path. We think that we are throwing away our hard earned experiences for new opportunities. The truth is we can apply our lessons learned and knowledge gained to almost any new endeavor. To this day, I still use my research skills I learned in my MBA program, but now I connect them to my love of adult learning and training.

Thanks Alli and I can’t wait to apply your great strategies to something new!


Alli Polin December 3, 2014 at 10:11 pm


I totally agree! It’s oftentimes incredibly challenging to see our own gifts. I think that’s why it’s important to find someone who’s willing to be our mirror and help us see what we’re unable to on our own. Whether it’s a coach, partner or friend, finding that trusted person makes a huge difference.

Also, great example about skills from your MBA program. Research skills put to use in a way that’s meaningful – the best!

Appreciate your insights! Thanks!


Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™ December 3, 2014 at 9:48 am

Hi Alli,

I second Terri’s comment about the LEGO metaphor. What I find most compelling is #2 “Build on Your Gifts”. Anyone can fall into the trap of comparing themselves to others. This occludes clear vision — asses and build on your own gifts! They are unique and will take you far.

Great post!

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™


Alli Polin December 3, 2014 at 10:13 pm

The comparison trap – big ouch and yes, we’ve all been there. When we’re comparing it’s so easy to fall into a feeling of “I’m less than” that other person. Less skilled, less savvy, less gifted, less respected… on and on. The truth, like you point out, is that everyone has their own gifts and it’s up to each of us to find them and put them to use!

Grateful for your addition here! Thanks, Kate!


John Bennett December 3, 2014 at 11:49 am

I agree with the others for sure. There really must be brainstorming (post it notes) on our knowledge, experience, and skills first. The sources noted in the blog are priceless. Other strong contributors to the reinvention success will be the skills often taken for granted and frequently far less developed than believed: effective learning, effective problem solving, and considering (http://johncbennettjr.com ). Indeed, in my thinking, the last one (considering) is key to the other two – and all the strong contributors.

In my college teaching experience, far too many students seek (but don’t usually say) something like “Tell me what I need to learn so I can be successful.” And they ask this at a time when a large fraction of the jobs five years after graduation aren’t even identified while in college!!! The successful individuals are the ones that recognize opportunity amid confusion in a changing world, ones willing to organize their knowledge and skills – adding new as appropriate – to accept the risks that accompany the challenge. They have the confidence that they will learn from the mistakes and false starts likely to occur on their road to useful outcomes..

Train a person to successfully do a job and they will surely have to return for more training. Facilitate a person’s capabilities to consider, critical think, learn effectively, problem solve effectively, and work well in teams and they will most likely have a successful career – most likely in leadership roles!


Alli Polin December 3, 2014 at 10:18 pm

Fantastic!! Big yes! Training for a single job isn’t doing anyone a service. It’s unlocking the unique skills and gifts and consistently rebuilding and reconfiguring as needed over time that’s really needed. Oh yeah, don’t forget continuing to grow. As you point out, many of us have skills that are far less fine tuned that we imagine and at the same time have other areas in which we’re truly gifted, but still overlook.

I work with a lot of people who start out our relationship essentially saying the same thing as your students “just tell me what to do” but my job isn’t telling, it’s facilitating and co-creating. Telling is found in a book, growth is found as a part of the journey.

Thanks for putting this in the context of education… that’s where it starts!

Many thanks, John!


LaRae Quy December 3, 2014 at 12:11 pm

Loved this question, Alli: What hidden pieces are at your disposal that you need to bring out to play?

Too often, we forget to reach for blocks that we’ve forgotten are there, or even worse, refusing to repurpose them as our life circumstances change and evolve.

Another great post 🙂


Alli Polin December 3, 2014 at 10:20 pm

Refusing to repurpose. Totally rings true. Because we’re so sure we’re right or so comfortable with the status quo that we refuse to let go enough to make the next leap. At some point, old buildings crumble and legos fall apart… why not rebuild along the way with intention?

Thanks, LaRae!


Karin Hurt December 3, 2014 at 7:39 pm

The building is so vital…. legos are built on layers as is life. One small layer feels like nothing, but it’s vital to celebrate and keep going. Before you know it, you’ve built a village.


Alli Polin December 3, 2014 at 10:21 pm

And surrounding ourselves with people who are willing to rebuild and grow in our network makes our village help everyone become stronger along the way.

Thanks, Karin!


Tom Rhodes December 3, 2014 at 8:15 pm

Your house sounds like mine except the pieces are different colors from the new Lego Girls sets. My Daughter will follow the directions once then pull it apart and create her own story with the blocks. It’s amazing and I tell her; have fun.
Our stories, and the directions they take are built on the choices we make. Even those we feel are thrust upon us by others are still owned by us. Change the choices and change the direction. Where you put the next LEGO piece sets the new direction. Yet you will always put the next piece in a straight line until you overcome the fear of a new direction. When that happens you will become unstuck and the future will be Awesome.
Thanks for all you do.


Alli Polin December 3, 2014 at 10:24 pm

Ha! We have plenty of Lego Friends too. 🙂

Every choice takes us somewhere and if we don’t like it, we have the power to choose again.

I’m intrigued by this comment: “Yet you will always put the next piece in a straight line until you overcome the fear of a new direction.”

It’s the moving forward without rebuilding. It makes us think that we’re progressing but it’s just more of the same until that moment where we know that more of the same is the last thing we need and that’s when the magic happens.

Thank you for sharing your wisdom, Tom!!


David Pethick December 3, 2014 at 8:43 pm

Hi Ali

Building on our strengths and passions is great advice, but so often overlooked. I recently wrote a piece from a similar perspective on my LinkedIn blog (http://linkd.in/12jhRI6).

Your last tip is perhaps the best of the lot. I once took two days to go through a similar exercise and the end result was a very small document that outlines who I am and what I enjoy doing. I regularly go back and re-read it to remind myself why I chose this path and it always re-invigorates me.

Kind Regards.

David Pethick
Co-Founder, http://leading.io


Alli Polin December 3, 2014 at 10:33 pm

Welcome, David!

Enjoyed your article… finding your purple suit matters! What also happens is that over time everyone is wearing a purple suit and then you’re faced with the “me-toos” Reinvention using our stories, skills and passions is an ongoing process for that very reason.

Love that you have a small doc that reminds you of who you are and not only what you do. I have something similar and it makes a huge difference!




Jon Mertz December 4, 2014 at 8:16 am

A great way to look at our talents and career, Alli. We have the building blocks available and, over time, we acquire new ones. In building what our career purpose is, we need to remain open and creative. We may need to pilot new builds and see if they resonate. Through it all, we need to be open to what is possible with the gifts and talents we have.

Appreciate your perspective on Legos and careers. Thank you! Jon


Alli Polin December 8, 2014 at 1:59 am

Jon – Great to acknowledge – we’re always getting new blocks to engage in our career and life. It’s remaining open that helps us to see options and possibilities instead of only dead ends and roadblocks.

Many thanks for your addition!


Samantha Hall December 4, 2014 at 9:48 am

Excellent post Alli!

I wish you had posted this earlier in the week since I had to rewrite my whole resume and spent a couple of days doing just that! : ) I had saved this in my email inbox to read when I had more time so even if I had caught it yesterday, it would have been too late to apply the ‘Sticky Notes’ exercise you mentioned at the end of your post! What a fun project!

Loved all your points here. I’ve had to re-purpose my skill set multiple time in my life and each time, I’ve been challenged by it because it’s so hard to SEE MYSELF. I know how to identify what I value…that’s actually the easiest part of the process for me. However, translating old skills into new ones isn’t always an obvious one.

The most obvious transition I made was when I jumped out of nursing and into working for a brainstorming software company just prior to launch. I was used to writing nursing notes on patients that included a great deal of observational data, so when asked if I could dissect our new software and write the Help documentation for it, it was a natural transition and use of my skills. I had the software figured out in very little time and wrote about every aspect of it piece by piece until I had the whole thing covered.

Once that was complete, I naturally moved into doing Customer Service and Support.

I no longer work for the company so it’s like being back to square 1 again, yet with a new list of experiences from working in the software industry. More of a challenge because outside of writing, I haven’t been sure yet how to re-purpose my skills in ways that would harmonize with my values, abilities, and needs the most.

Recently, an unexpected job opportunity cropped up that I jumped on. A new position as an office manager for a dental office. So we shall see!

Thanks for another great post filled with wonderful tips and exercises.


Alli Polin December 8, 2014 at 2:04 am

I love how you show that you can make dramatic leaps and bring critical building blocks along with you for the ride! Many people would assume that a leap from nursing to a software company would be impossible. You looked beyond a job description to find parallels in the strengths and skills required to do the job well instead. … and then on to Customer Service!

I work with tons of people who would say industry transition is impossible. Thanks for sharing that it most definitely is do-able! You’re a champion at repurposing skills and staying true to your strengths as well!

Incredibly excited for you about your next opportunity. Sometimes it’s the ones we never thought of, that we jump on, that are truly meant to be. I was a stay at home mom for a time and my friend and colleague recommended me for a leadership position in a local company. I updated my resume, interviewed on a Wednesday, offer on Wednesday night and before I was even set up as a full time employee had my first meeting that Friday! Insane!

Wishing you all the best in your next leap and love how you truly are an inspiration for shifting, building and growing!



Cynthia Bazin December 8, 2014 at 8:17 pm

Excellent post Alli! I will be certainly sharing this with my community. What this post does is give hope to SO many people that think they are stuck for life where they are. Of course they are not, but you give the tools for them to break it down, what gifts they really do have to bring out to the world. Bravo my friend. Another super awesome post!


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